A study from global technology intelligence firm ABI Research has provided more evidence that broadband operators are reaching for the stars over the next few years. It calculates that the serviceable addressable market (SAM) for global satellite broadband over geostationary (GEO), medium earth orbit (MEO) and low earth orbit (LEO) satellites will be 330 million premises, equivalent to 1.3 billion household members, in 2026.
The study, Satellite communications: enabling universal broadband connectivity, found that SAM has grown by 5.3% compared with 2021 even as fibre-optic deployment continues, along with 5G and 4G mobile coverage. However, ABI noted that the latter are still insufficient to address consumer, business and small office/home office (SoHo) premises’ wide-ranging broadband needs as populations and economies continue to grow.
Indeed, the analyst said that as the world economy becomes increasingly reliant on broadband communications, there is mounting pressure on communications service providers to deliver resilient broadband and additional capacity for all geographic locations within their markets. ABI sees satellite communications as being able to support a network of network solutions augmenting existing network communications systems, such as mobile cellular and fibre-optic, enabling greater resilience and on-demand capacity boosts.
“Even with the proliferation of mobile and fixed broadband access throughout the globe, there is still a significant portion of the population, mostly in rural areas, that suffers from poor coverage or is not covered at all by terrestrial forms of broadband,” said Jun Wei Ee, research analyst at ABI Research. “Satellite communications – over GEO, MEO and LEO – can help operators fill the coverage gap, ultimately providing reliable connectivity for premises that will not have access to fibre-optic or reliable 5G coverage.”
In addition to providing direct satellite broadband access, the study also highlighted how satellite communication providers can play a crucial role in supporting backhaul traffic from mobile cellular base stations. It said the growing constellations of GEO, MEO and LEO satellites provide ubiquitous and dense coverage while remaining secure and readily available in cases of network outages.
With mobile cellular subscriptions forecast to grow to 8.8 billion by 2026, ABI noted that satellite communication firms can support and contribute to this growth by providing coverage for rural communities and help “top up” capacity in suburban areas that do not have access to high-capacity fibre-optic or 5G infrastructure.
Also, the analyst said the rise of capabilities such as software-defined satellite networks, software-defined networking and network function virtualisation will further enable synergies between satellite constellations and seamless integration of satellite communications into the unified network infrastructure across connectivity technologies.
“There is an enduring need for GEO satellites’ ubiquitous cover synergising with MEO and LEO high throughput and low latency,” said Jake Saunders, report research manager and vice-president at ABI Research. “As satellite network technologies continue to evolve and are integrated with terrestrial technologies, telecom operators will be better equipped and more agile in providing broadband connectivity to its growing and diverse customer base.”
The report comes just as Rakuten Mobile announced it was ramping up its activities in the satellite sector. In March 2021, it announced that it was collaborating with AST SpaceMobile to build a satellite-based communications network using LEO satellites. With a space-based mobile broadband network, the two companies set out to provide mobile service to areas that would typically be out of coverage, such as mountainous areas, remote islands or on the sea.
Rakuten also has invested in AST SpaceMobile and has formed a strategic partnership with the company. Just days ago, the operator revealed it was embarking on an R&D project with the University of Tokyo, and the two companies say they will use their respective expertise in satellite communications technology and narrowband IoT (NB-IoT) to build an internet-of-things (IoT) network using LEO satellite communications and establish new use cases for IoT services using NB-IoT and LTE devices. Computer Weekly